As we prepare to celebrate the nation’s holiday, the Summit League needs to be prepared for a different milestone: the possible dissolution of the league. This may seem like overreaction, but after the news of IUPUI’s departure, the league and its presidents need to be proactive or it might be too late.
Since 2010, the conference has been in a constant state of flux. Six schools have left in those seven years:
- Southern Utah
- Oral Roberts
The league has added five members in that same time frame:
- South Dakota
- Oral Roberts (returned in 2014)
- North Dakota (joins in 2018)
The geography of the league has certainly become more midwest-centric, which has helped travel budgets and also boosted the league’s reputation (remember a couple years ago the men’s RPI was up to 12).
Losing IUPUI though is noteworthy, because firstly, they weren’t even mentioned in the discussions about expansion with the Horizon and Missouri Valley, that was Omaha and Fort Wayne. Secondly, with IUPUI leaving, now Fort Wayne is all by its lonesome on the eastern side of the conference. The Mastodons’ closest trip is now Macomb (Western Illinois) which is a six hour bus ride. That’s not close. Fort Wayne’s athletic director said in an interview in Fort Wayne last week, “they are compelled to look at other options.” Fort Wayne is within driving distance of nearly the entire Horizon League, outside of the Wisconsin schools and one other thing, they don’t play football.
Here’s the rub on Fort Wayne. Competitively right now, they are not very good. They finished dead last in the Commissioner’s Cup standings, which ranks all of the teams based on performance. Both the men and women finished last. The men’s basketball team won 20 games this past year and has been competitive in recent seasons, but is that enough of a selling point to the Horizon? The Summit League had better hope not, because if Fort Wayne leaves, then the league is in real trouble.
If Fort Wayne leaves, that would leave the Summit with just five baseball teams. The rub on that is the NCAA requires six teams in a conference to receive an automatic qualifier to the NCAA Tournament. There is a two-year waiver (the Summit used that a few years ago when Oakland left) and would be needed again if Fort Wayne departs.
Who’s out there? That’s the question I get the most and I have asked the most.
- UMKC – The former Summit member makes the most sense in my mind. The Kangaroos left for the WAC in 2013, but according to their athletic director “travel has been more challenging than we originally thought.” With a conference spread out over three time zones, the money that they are spending on travel alone should make them think about re-joining their old friends. It makes sense on the Summit side too, could make a travel partner with Omaha and can get direct flights wherever. Lastly, they don’t play football which helps. Downside? Not great in many sports, men’s basketball just went 1-1 in the CBI this past March.
- Grand Canyon University – This one is appealing to me, the Antelopes are entering their fifth year of Division 1 this fall, but have grabbed headlines with their rapid ascent in athletics. The men’s basketball team is coached by former NBA All-Star Dan Majerle, they won 22 games last season. The university is based in Phoenix, has a brand new baseball stadium on the way, and would give the league a splash it badly needs, no matter how far it is. It is a “for-profit” university, which could scare away some old-fashioned presidents about it how goes about business.
- Augustana University – The D2 school in Sioux Falls made some news last week when its athletic director told KWSN radio that they would have discussions about Division 1. The problem on this for the Vikings is it doesn’t help the Summit immediately. The five year waiting period for Division 1 eligibility seems like it would take forever, also, what would you do with football? Does the Missouri Valley Football Conference open its doors? Would they go the Pioneer route and no-scholarships?How would SDSU and USD feel about that?
There are a couple other schools that we have discussed in the past; Eastern Illinois and SIU-Edwardsville, but not sure those are real options.
One way or the other, Tom Douple and the league presidents had better be on the phone. Because the league is teetering right now and next year at this time, we could be in much worse shape.
Some articles to read, this from Fort Wayne on what they should do.
From April and the struggles at UMKC.
I’m heading back to New York for another quasi-wedding reception with my family, but will return later next week. Our offseason football coverage will continue here, don’t worry about that!